Month: September 2020

Designing Dream Machines — A Look at the Engineering Process

The X-factor — it’s not just aesthetics but also understanding your market and who will buy your product.  From kettles to cars, it’s essential to place technology and design on the same level. Don’t forget about your environment, either. Under what conditions will your design be put to the test? What may appeal to someone in Berlin’s busy city streets may not appeal to someone in Stockholm navigating the many canals and ferries. 

What is the X-Factor? It’s the one thing that makes your product stand out from its competitors. 

Without the X-factor, your product will blend in with the competition. If it doesn't catch the consumer's eye, it is likely to be passed over  — resulting in little to no sales.

In the video, Designing Dream Machines and Seymour & Powell share their tricks-of-the-trade and how they create the X-Factor. They show you their design process and how it all comes together to make a new product with that flair that sets their products apart from the competition. 

In this article, we take a look at how they do just that by following them through the steps as they design a new Bantam Motorcycle for BSA and a revolutionary kitchen appliance that is a game-changer for T-fal.

Designing and Manufacturing the BSA Bantam Motorcycle

BSA went out of business in 1973. At their peak, they were the largest motorcycle producer in the world. In 1994 Seymour & Powell were brought in to try and revamp the BSA name. They needed to design a new motorcycle that would appeal to new consumers and maintain credibility with the old BSA Bantam fans. 

The Challenge

A significant part of engineering is the design process. Engineers have to work together and create something that features a combination of things the consumer wants. When they sat down with their team to discuss ideas for engineering the Bantam, they brought some key features to the table for consideration.

 The bike needs to be lightweight, simple to use for first-time users, inexpensive, and have good utility quality. It has to have a look that appeals to the BSA Bantam fans and a sportier, sleeker look that would appeal to a new generation of younger consumers. 

First, they needed to consider the original bike, so they discussed the BSA Bantam name, what the bike was, and how it could relate to the current market. As part of the engineering process, it’s important to keep both history and what consumers expect in mind when designing a product revival. 

Seymour heads to the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham to see what kind of look was iconic for the BSA Bantam Motorcycle.  The first thing he notices is the slender, lightweight construction. He also notices the triangular side panels and a rack on the back wheel for carrying items.  

Ideally, they needed to incorporate these nostalgic features into their design and, at the same time, make it more sleek and modern.

The Final Product

Unlike most motorcycles at that time, the Bantam's engine would be made from scratch by BSA in Britain, which means the engine itself would be strong enough to provide the structural link between the front and rear ends. Triangular load-bearing side panels mounted directly on the engine would support the motorcycle's top parts. 

They met with the BSA company owners and showed them several different designs for the new Bantam motorcycle. The company owners chose one design with all the features they wanted to incorporate into the new BSA Bantam. They chose a sleek design with features such as the triangular side panels, distinctive tank shape, and a color that distinguished it as a Bantam, but with a more modern, sexy look that would appeal to new, younger consumers.

Next, they put together a foam model on a scrap chassis. Once Seymour trimmed the foam to the desired shape, they remodeled it in clay and added a bit of hardware. They expected to show this model to BSA's managing director for approval, but that meeting got canceled. The clock was ticking, so they moved on to the next stage. 

They built a fiberglass version and painted it. This fiberglass appearance model looked exactly like how the motorcycle would look after production. After seeing this model, the managing director from BSA approved the design.

Following approval, they went on to build a fully working prototype to test the bike’s dynamics. The road test was a success, and the Bantam was scheduled to go into production in 1997. It is unclear why, but unfortunately, this never happened.

Designing a Revolutionary Kitchen Appliance for T-fal

Unlike BSA, who provided a clear brief for the Bantam motorcycle design, T-fal wasn't as explicit about the appliance they wanted to design. Due to the lack of information and direction, Seymour & Powell hosted what they call a “creative event.” 

For their creative events, they get their entire team together with a single idea in mind to brainstorm concepts associated with a theme. In this case, their theme was an appliance. In this creative event, they wanted to brainstorm ideas for an appliance that they wish they had or how one could be improved to make users more interested in buying a product from T-fal over other appliance manufacturers. 

Typically engineers and technicians produce new technology and try to wrap a product around it. At Seymour & Powell, they try to step into the future to understand what the consumer will be interested in and create a product concept based on that. Then the engineers, technicians, and designers work together to make that product come to life. 

The problem with producing new appliances is that most of them look the same to consumers when shopping for a new one. Powell had to come up with a design or feature to make their appliance stand out from the rest and grab the consumer’s attention. 

The Challenge

After their brainstorming session, Powell decided to design a modular power base that was usable with multiple appliances, including a food processor and a kettle. This idea set their appliance design apart from the others on the market.  

He wanted to create an eye-catching cordless electric kettle designed to work with the power base. But Powell's most ground-breaking design was a new kind of food processor that would be much easier to use. 

Food processor bowls are all pretty much the same. When tasked with designing a food processor, the bowl doesn’t change much. However, the bowl is where most of the problems arise. They are difficult to clean, they are hard to put on the base, and it’s difficult to put the lid on correctly as there is only one way to assemble it. By design, they are safe, but difficult to operate quickly and efficiently. 

The Final Product

The design of the entire product line was focused around a circular charging base with a retractable cord and a 360 connector common to every appliance within that same line. 

The kettle design was visually very different from other kettles. Electric kettles typically use a coil on the bottom to heat the water. The engineer used a flat plate within the kettle to make sure it would work with the power base.

The bottom of the double-insulated kettle was flat, allowing it to be removed from the power base and used elsewhere, such as the dining table. The extra insulation made it possible for the kettle to maintain heat for an extended period of time while off the base. 

These features set the kettle apart from its competitors. They also chose a distinctly different color to make the appliance line stand out even further from its mostly white competitors. 

The kettle and charging base was just the beginning. Powell wanted to design an entirely new kind of food processor, so they focused their attention on developing one that would be the star of the product lineup and grab consumers' attention everywhere. 

Food processors are one of the hardest appliances to use. They only go together one way. There is an endless amount of parts with sharp edges that are difficult to clean around. They are often difficult to put together. 

They created a new bowl that operated a lot like a blender. The new bowl looked similar to a kettle in shape. It was rounded and had a slightly elevated center for the middle that housed the blades, which came down to the lower sides. 

They made the processor housing that held the bowl elongated in shape, and it included a storage compartment in the back for accessories. The lid was easy to open with a single touch of a button. 

Tefal loved the product line and said they could imagine many other applications for the powerbase. To see if their design really had the X-Factor, they stopped by a department store and placed their prototype on the shelf. The X-Factor was definitely present. The appliances they designed for Tefal stood out dramatically against the competition.

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Engineering at Home: Make Your Own Lightbulb

Are you an engineer who loves to build things for fun? Or maybe you’re helping your child with a science project for school.

No matter what situation led you to search for instructions on making your lightbulb, you’ve come to the right place.

In the following article, we’ll give you a list of the supplies you need and walk you through the process step-by-step. By the time you’re done, you’ll be the proud owner of your very own DIY lightbulb — that actually works!

Supply List

Materials You Need

  • Mechanical Pencil Lead
  • Jar and Lid
  • Malleable Wire
  • 4 Machine Screws(I used 10-32 1/2")
  • 4 Nuts
  • 2 Acorn Nuts
  • Silicone
  • Heat-Shrink Tubing
  • JB Weld
  • CO2 Canister
  • Short Length of Piano Wire

Tools You Need

  • Drill and Bits
  • Vise-Grips
  • Wire Cutters
  • Needle-Nose Pliers
  • Scissors
  • Screw Driver
  • Penknife
  • Candle/Matches/Lighter
  • Voltage Source
  • Air Nozzle(Only Unusual Tool Needed)
  • Oven
  • Wire Leads
  • Multimeter(optional)

Step #1: Hollow-Out Your Screws

To hollow out your screws, drill a 3/32" hole through the middle of each one. Two of these hollowed-out screws will be turned into vents for filling the jar with CO2. The other two are for holding the wire hangers.

When drilling, you’ll find it’s much easier if you drill a hole in a piece of wood to hold the screw in place while you hollow it out. 

There is a chance you may mess up a screw or two, so it’s a good idea to purchase extra screws to be sure you still have enough to finish the project without having to go back to the store to buy more.


Step #2: Get Your Lid Ready

To get your lid ready, use a marker to make dots where you want the holes to go. You should have four holes in total that are equally spaced apart.

Use a drill to make the holes, then grab a penknife to score the area around each hole on each side of the lid. You’ll be using epoxy in these holes later, and this allows it to adhere better.


Step #3: Prepare and Insulate the Hangers

Cut two pieces of malleable wire, about 10" long. Clamp the wire with vise grips leaving about 1.5" of extra wire sticking out on one side. Then, hold the piano wire against the vise grips, so it appears perpendicular to the wire. Using your needle-nosed pliers, twist the wire around the piano wire.

Repeat the steps above to make the second hanger.

Note: For malleable wire, you may use 19 gauge stainless steel, but any solid core wire of a similar gauge should work.

Let go of the vise-grips and remove the piano wire. You should now have an excellent coil to hold the filament. Place a piece of mechanical pencil lead inside the coil. It will be very loose. 

Gently adjust the coil with the needle-nosed pliers so that it tightly holds the pencil lead in place. Make small adjustments only to prevent breaking the lead, and then cut the extra length of wire off the coil.

Repeat the steps above for the second wire and then bend the two wires, so it holds the pencil lead vertically and center, so the long leads align with the lid holes. 

Cut a 1" length of heat-shrink tubing. Place it around the wire hanger at the spot where it goes through the lid, about 4.5" from the underside of the longer lead. Apply heat to shrink and adhere to the tubing onto the hanger. A candle is probably the easiest way to apply heat through a lighter, but matches will work as well.

Repeat the steps above for the second hanger.


Step #4: Attach the Screws

Mix a minute amount of JB Weld and apply it to the outside of the heat-shrink tubing.

With the head face down, carefully slide the screw over the tubing and JB Weld. 

The epoxy should completely fill the hole in the screw because you need an airtight seal. Make sure the screw is straight on the wire hanger.

Repeat the steps above for the second hanger.


Step #5: Mount the Lid and Make the Final Adjustments

Mix a minute amount of JB Weld and apply it to the bottom of the screw head. Push the screw into the hole in the lid with the head face down in the jar. Tighten the nut on the lid's opposite side. Make sure the epoxy fills all gaps to make it airtight.

Repeat for both vent-screws and hanger-screws.

Let the epoxy fully harden for a few hours. To check for a good seal, tighten the lid on the jar, blow into one of your vents while holding your finger over the other one at the same time.

Once the JB Weld has hardened, put your piece of pencil lead in the hangers to see if they fit, and make final adjustments to the hangers' positions. Remove the pencil lead and wash thoroughly (with detergent). Dry the hangers, the bottom of the lid, and inside the jar. The inside of your bulb must be free of any contaminants that might burn and cause discoloration.

Use latex gloves if you have them, for the final assembly. If you don't use gloves, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly as well. Carefully place a new, fresh piece of lead in the hangers. Try not to handle it more than you have to. Tightly screw the lid onto the jar.

Note: You can use 0.7mm lead, though 0.5mm and even 0.3mm should also work. The thinner lead has a higher resistance and should make a brighter bulb.


Step #6: Charge and Test Your Lightbulb

Place the assembled jar in the oven at 180 degrees. It only needs a few minutes to heat. While the jar is heating, apply a minute amount of silicone inside both of your acorn nuts.

You need to do the next step quickly, so you might want to practice it.

Take the jar out of the oven and place it on the table. Use the air nozzle to put CO2 into the jar through one of the vents. Do this for about a minute. The cold CO2 should fill the jar and force the hot oxygen-containing air out of the second vent. 

While continuing to put CO2 into the jar, screw an acorn nut onto the open vent. Remove the air nozzle from the vent, then quickly screw an acorn nut onto it. Tighten both acorn nuts to make a good seal.

Filling this requires an unusual tool, the air nozzle. It is supposed to be an air duster, but regular canister air dusters will not work. They tend to be filled with flammable gases, such as propane. Using one will create a bomb, not a light bulb.

As an alternative to a CO2 canister,  you can use dry ice. Without heating the jar beforehand, place a small piece of dry ice in the jar and let it turn into CO2, displacing the air. After the dry ice has completely disappeared, close and seal the vents, but do not seal the jar with dry ice still inside. It will continue to dissolve and create positive pressure that could become a safety hazard. 

When you first turn the bulb on, it will smoke a bit as the remaining small amount of oxygen in the jar burns. Burn it for about 30 seconds, then let it cool, and the smoke settle.

12 - 24V should be just right for powering the lightbulb, as long as it can provide a high current amount. You can use two 6V NiMH batteries to connect in series.

You can use a multimeter to measure the resistance of the bulb. With the V=IR, find out how much current your bulb will pull. 

As the graphite heats, its resistance decreases. The resistance you measure before turning on the bulb will be higher than when it is on. This is one reason tungsten filaments are used — tungsten's resistance increases with temperature.

Congratulations! Your bulb is now completed!

If you are running your bulb with batteries, make sure you do not overheat your batteries.

It won't be very bright, so don't plan on replacing your household lighting with it. This bulb was merely an experiment to learn how one works, but if you want to increase the brightness, try increasing the voltage with a stronger battery. Just be careful since the higher the voltage, the higher the current.

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The Engineering Behind a One-of-a-Kind Dubai Megastructure

Dubai’s economy was built on oil profits, but 1991 estimates revealed that their crude supply would dry up by 2016. As it turned out, this was inaccurate, but Dubai’s oil production was at its peak in 1991 and has declined steadily ever since. 

However, in light of the looming economic predicament, the Prince of Dubai H.H. Sheikh Mohammed came up with a plan to save the economy. 

He turned to Dubai's other natural resources such as sun, sand, and sea to develop a new revenue stream for his country. His solution: the tallest, most luxurious hotel ever made tailored to high-class clients. 

Construction began on the Burj Al Arab in 1994. Engineers and Architects will battle against time, nature, and each other to make this dream a reality. Find out how they worked together to tackle some of the most challenging problems with building this one of a kind structure. 

The Obstacles

Obstacle #1:
The Building’s Iconic Design

Architect Tom Wright wanted to design this building to be iconic and came up with a brilliant solution. If you think about famous buildings and how they stand out, you think about their iconic shape. 

We recognize iconic structures such as the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House by their unique shapes. If you draw a few simple lines, we can see that shape and instantly know what it is. Wright wanted to create this for his client. 

When thinking of Dubai and what makes it unique, Wright thought about the sailboats in the sea around Dubai. In his design, he wanted to create an iconic shape of a ship’s sail—a shape reminiscent of the sea and how sailing is a massive part of Dubai culture. 

Using the shape of a sail for this massive structure was enormously challenging. Wright wanted it to appear as if a sail was rising out of the sea. However, to create this impression, the hotel would need to be built on an island. 

Dubai had no islands, so they would have to decide whether to build it on the shore or build a man-made island to support the hotel. Building the hotel on a man-made island would be far more expensive and posed many additional risks. 

Wright and his team weighed both options and the risks involved with each, but ultimately the client chose to build a man-made island to house the hotel.

Obstacle #2:
An Artificial Island with Severe Weather Conditions

Building an enormous structure like the Burj Al Arab on a man-made island presented some unique challenges. The architects and engineers had to work together to ensure the structure's soundness and everyone's safety. 

The architects had planned for many severe weather patterns associated with the Arab Gulf, but project architect Simon Crispe was made acutely aware of the dangers when he witnessed a barge containing 10,000 tons of rock slam into the shore during a shumal. He realized they had underestimated the power of the Arabian Gulf.

They had to come up with a solution to keep the weather from damaging the island. At first glance, an island of rock seemed like the best solution. It would be sturdy, and the materials are plentiful and easy to get locally, but Wright rejects this idea. His design calls for a low-profile island, and an island made of rocks would have to be far too large to safely repel the sea.

Obstacle #3:
Damaging Waves

Waves associated with severe weather are a big issue for the low profile island that Wright had in mind. Mike McNicholas, the island engineer, thought of a solution to solve the problem with the waves and keep the island as low profile as possible. 

He suggests they use experimental hexagonal concrete blocks designed to reduce the impact of waves. A layer of these blocks on top of the rock should dissipate the waves. The problem is no one in the area had ever used blocks like this before. 

Before they decided to use these blocks, they had to run tests to see if they would work safely. Over the next three weeks, they tested the design using simulations of the highest possible waves projected for the next hundred years. They concluded the blocks are effective and would be safe to use. 

They covered their island of rock in a concrete armor made of these hollowed-out hexagonal structures that act like a sponge, sucking in the water and circling it around and considerably dissipating the waves’ force.

Obstacle #4:
Sea Wall Flooding the Structure

Now that they have solved the issue with waves potentially damaging the island, they face a new problem in the next phase of construction, the sea wall. The sea places a massive amount of pressure onto the sand pushing its way underneath the island. 

McNicholas plans to build a cofferdam as the base of the structure. He builds this cofferdam using 20-meter lengths of steel placed in a triangular shape. However, digging the sand out of here poses a high risk of the sea wall flooding the structure and potentially killing hundreds of workers. 

He decides to inject a layer of concrete from the sides towards the center to form a thick layer to prevent flooding as the sand is removed. The cement seal should keep the pressure caused by the sea wall level and prevent it from flooding. The problem is that as more sand is removed, there is less weight to hold back the sea's force.  

McNicholas’ calculations proved to be correct. The concrete layer was sufficient enough to prevent the sea wall from flooding the structure. 

Obstacle #5:
A Solid Foundation on Sand

In November 1995, they moved on to the foundation. Ideally, in order to build a solid foundation, they need a layer of bedrock to provide a stable base. Unfortunately, after taking many core samples, they discover there is no bedrock, only sand. 

They decided to sink steel-reinforced concrete foundation piles deep into the sand. This method relies on the principle of skin friction, which stops the two rough surfaces from slipping past each other. 

They send off samples of sand in containers for testing to ensure that the sand’s density around the pillars will be sufficient to prevent the piles from moving. If it is too loose, it could cause the structure to fail.

Obstacle #6:
High Winds & Earthquakes

The foundation is near a fault line, which means that earthquakes could pose a catastrophic problem. Like the massive earthquake in June of 1964 of Niigata, Japan, liquefaction in sandy soil is a major issue. 

As the sand shakes, it loosens up any air pockets and compresses the sand causing it to move like a liquid. In Japan, this caused entire apartment buildings to flip over. This would be a serious issue to consider in Dubai, as well. 

The samples of sand sent off for testing showed that they were in luck. Deep beneath the surface, tests showed they had a compacted, calcified type of sand that would be dense enough for the skin friction to work. 

They constructed 250 concrete piles that were over 20% longer than initially planned to ensure that liquefaction would not be a problem. These piles had a combined length of 10km, which is 35 times the height of the tower they will support.

Obstacle #7:
The Desert Heat & Steel

Now it’s time to build the structure. The slender frame is not capable of withstanding the elements alone. Wright designed a sort of exoskeleton that used diagonal trusses to connect two steel bows to the building's concrete core. 

Unfortunately, these steel trusses caused some issues. Steel expands in heat and contracts in the cold. Dubai had a temperature variance of 14 degrees. This meant that the steel trusses could expand up to 5cm. 

The solution was a fixing bracket with an offset center hole that would rotate to line up with the truss's hole location. 

They brought in specialist lifting gear from Singapore to place these enormous diagonal trusses as single pieces and position them on the building's exoskeleton. Once the holes are lined up, a steel pin is placed, securing the truss in the correct position despite the 5cm variance.

Obstacle #8:
Vibrations from Vortex Shedding

A uniquely shaped structure this big poses other problems such as vortex shedding. Vortex shedding happens when the wind blows across edges of structures and causes a miniature tornado effect, which in turn causes dangerous vibrations. Those vibrations ultimately cause the structure to fall apart over time. 

Volker Buttgereit, the aerodynamicist, performed a wind-tunnel test with a 1:50 scale model. He determined the easiest solution would be to remove the exoskeleton. However, the exoskeleton is what makes the building unique, so this wasn’t an option. 

The solution was to install tuned mass dampers in vulnerable points of the exoskeleton to offset the vibrations. As the wind blows and starts causing vortex shedding, the 5-ton weight moves to damp down the vibrations to well within the safety limits. They installed 11 of these dampers along the exoskeleton, effectively canceling out the threat of vortex shedding.

Obstacle #9:
A Restaurant that’s Suspended in the Sky

Wright's design included a winglike restaurant in the back of the structure that floated high above the sea with no visible supports. He wanted guests to feel like they were dining in the sky. This posed a problem for Anthony McCarter, structural engineer, to solve. 

The solution was to embed steel brackets in the concrete core and attach steel girders to the brackets. The steel beams protrude outward to serve as a base for the steel floor of the restaurant. They built in the restaurant then encased it in aluminum and glass to finish off the overall design. 

With the base of the sturdily embedded into the concrete core at the back of the building, this structure is able to withstand wind speeds close to 160kph.

Obstacle #10:
Battling Humidity & Scorching Temps

Time was getting short. To finish the hotel on schedule, they decided to start on interior decoration before the exterior was completed. This posed a new problem as humidity in the area can be as high as 100% along with scorching temperatures. High temperatures and moisture prevented them from finishing some things. These conditions won't allow the team to put in sensitive finishes like gold leaf, silk, and carved wood. They would have simply fallen apart.

Due to the delicate nature of many of these high-end materials, they first needed to climate-control the interior. First, they enclosed the building by installing the iconic fabric sail wall. The fabric's reflective properties of the sail help keep the temperatures down.

However, construction is still ongoing, and they need a way to get the trucks in and out of the building without letting in the desert heat. They accomplish this by installing an airlock big enough to allow trucks in and out of the building. They have successfully solved extreme temperatures and humidity issues, but now they have a new problem, condensation.

Obstacle #11:
Dealing With Damaging Condensation

Instillation of the massive sail wall formed a large atrium. They had to be careful to introduce air conditioning slowly. The warm air within the atrium could have made a small rain cloud at the top of the building if they lowered the temperature too rapidly. They knew this would cause significant damage to the interior if left unchecked.

The only way to prevent this cost them valuable time. They turned the building’s cooling system on, lowering the temperature very slowly, less than one degree a day. It took six months to cool the building down to the appropriate temperature.

Finally, the interior decoration could really begin. Khuan Chew, who had previously worked with the Sultan of Brunei, was chosen to be the interior designer for this project. She had to create and implement a design that the Sheik would find worthy and to meet the deadline, she had to do it within a short two-year period. 

Obstacle #12:
Electricity Demands & Harmonic Distortion

As the building was nearing completion, the Sheik decided he wanted every possible electronic device available for his guests. This new directive rendered the planned electrical system obsolete overnight.

Electrical Engineer Rob Ruse had to redesign the whole system to handle the significantly increased electricity demands, and he had to prevent harmonic distortion. All these electronics can disrupt the waveform of the electric current, causing the problem of harmonic distortion. This can melt the protective sheathing around live cables and cause a disastrous fire. 

Ruse creates a groundbreaking harmonic filter system. The system detects harmonic distortion and then sends a current that is the mirror image of the distortion to cancel it. This is called mirror phase and works like noise-canceling headphones to cancel out the harmonic distortion. 

To ensure his system works as intended, he installs these systems on all key floors and where electricity enters the building. 

The Burj Al Arab made history with it’s innovation. That innovation mixed with the dreams of a very ambitious client paved the way for even further engineering accomplishments. In the years that followed building the Burj Al Arab the construction of the Palm Islands called Palm Jumeirah, Deira Island and Palm Jebel Ali. 

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